Child detention – the answer is justice, not tougher measures

Pilot scheme giving families a fortnight to leave the UK “voluntarily” has not been successful so fa

A pilot scheme aimed at ending child detention in the UK through voluntary deportation has not had much success so far, according to a report by the BBC.

The scheme involves giving families with children two weeks to leave the country "voluntarily", with leeway for officials to give orders for a family to leave on a specific day.

In the pilot, 113 families in the north-west of England and London were invited to special family conferences at which they are told that they had to make arrangements to leave.

Documents seen by the BBC show that just one family has so far been successfully removed voluntarily. Two families accepted resettlement packages, and another two that refused to comply were taken into detention and subsequently deported.

It will be easy for the populist right to argue that the apparently low rate of removal indicates that the scheme is a failure and there is no effective alternative to detention.

However, the numbers in the document in fact tell a different story. Just three families – and remember this is out of a total of 113 – went on the run or cut contact with officials. Most of the others used their freedom to go through the courts or the appeals system to fight their removal legally.

The findings highlight a problem with the asylum system that goes beyond questions of detention: the vast majority of people seeking asylum are not given anything resembling a fair hearing. A substantial proportion of asylum cases that are rejected the first time round are won on appeal, causing not only trauma to the person in question, but unnecessary cost to the taxpayer.

This existing problem is set to deteriorate further, thanks to fast-tracked asylum applications, cuts to legal aid which have already made it difficult to find a lawyer to take on appeal cases in many areas, and these quick-turnaround deportations.

In this context, it seems brutal that officials are proposing tougher measures (outlined in the same document), such as "ensured return", and "non-detained" accommodation near airports, which frankly sound rather like deportation and detention by different names. Other suggested tactics include electronic tagging and arresting one parent in order to force other family members to board a flight (how's that for "moral outrage", Nick Clegg?)

The commitment to end child detention is hollow if it is simply replaced with similarly punitive and non-humane methods. According to the Children's Society, evidence from abroad shows that families leave voluntarily if they feel they have had a fair hearing.

The answer is not imprisonment, or rushed removals to potentially dangerous situations, but an asylum process that, from start to finish, adheres to basic standards of justice.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Stella Creasy targeted for deselection

Organisers on the left believe the Walthamstow MP is the ideal target for political, personal and geographical reasons.

Stella Creasy, the high-profile MP for Walthamstow and defeated deputy Labour leadership candidate, is the first serious target of an attempt to deselect a sitting Labour MP, the New Statesman has learnt.

Creasy, who is on the right of the party, is believed to be particularly vulnerable to an attempt to replace her with an MP closer to the Labour party’s left. Her constituency, and the surrounding borough of Waltham Forest, as well as the neighbouring borough of Leyton and Wanstead, has a large number both of new members, inspired either to join or return to Labour by Jeremy Corbyn, plus a strong existing network of leftwing groupings and minor parties.

An anti-bombing demonstration outside of Creasy’s constituency offices in Walthamstow – the MP is one of around 80 members of Parliament who have yet to decide how to vote on today’s motion on airstrikes in Syria – is the latest in a series of clashes between supporters of Creasy and a series of organized leftwing campaigns.

Allies of Creasy were perturbed when Momentum, the grassroots body that represents the continuation of Corbyn’s leadership campaign, held a rally in her constituency the night of the Autumn Statement, without inviting the MP. They point out that Momentum is supposedly an outward-facing campaign supporting Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party towards the 2020 general election and the forthcoming local and European elections. Labour holds 27 out of 27 council seats in Creasy’s constituency, while Creasy herself has a majority of 23,195 votes.

“If you look at the seat, there is nothing to win here,” said one Labour member, who believes that Momentum and other groups are planning to depose Creasy. Momentum has denied any plot to remove Creasy as the MP.

However, Creasy has come under pressure from within her local party in recent weeks over the coming vote on bombing Syria. Asim Mahmood, a Labour councilor in Creasy’s constituency, has called for any MP who votes for bombing to face a trigger ballot and reselection. Creasy hit back at Mahmood on Facebook, saying that while she remained uncertain of how to vote: “the one thing I will not do is be bullied by a sitting Walthamstow Labour councilor with the threat of deselection if I don’t do what he wants”.

Local members believe that Mahmood may be acting as the stalking horse for his sister, the current mayor of Waltham Forest, Saima Mahmud, who may be a candidate in the event of a trigger ballot against Creasy. Another possible candidate in a selection battle is Steven Saxby, a local vicar. Unite, the recognized trade union of the Anglican Communion, is a power player in internal Labour politics.

Although Creasy has kept her own counsel about the direction of the party under Corbyn, she is believed to be more vulnerable to deselection than some of the leader’s vocal critics, as her personal style has led to her being isolated in her constituency party. Creasy is believed to be no longer on speaking terms with Chris Robbins, the leader of the council, also from the right of the party.

Others fear that the moves are an attempt by Creasy’s local opponents to prepare the ground for a challenge to Creasy should the seat be redrawn following boundary changes. The mood in the local party is increasingly febrile.  The chair of the parliamentary Labour party, John Cryer, whose Leyton and Wanstead seat is next to Creasy’s constituency, is said to fear that a fundraiser featuring the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, will take an acrimonious turn. Cryer was one of just four shadow cabinet ministers to speak against airstrikes in Syria.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.